For thousands of years humans have known that honey is a miracle food from nature. It only takes a quick search on the internet to find literally hundreds of health benefits and incredible recovery stories attributed to honey. Honey has anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-viral properties. Honey soothes coughs and boosts immune response. Honey has been shown to neutralize free-radicals and improve athletic performance.
Can the way we process honey effect its potency or its beneficial range? Is there a difference between raw honey and commercially processed honey? Below you will find an exploration of honey processing techniques and their affects on the final product. Do you know how your favorite honey is processed?
Basic Forms of Honey Processing
Filtering – filtering is a process that removes large, non-honey items from raw honey. Such items may include dirt, splinters from the hive boxes, or bee parts (legs and wings). Although some honey purists may not mind the presence of these items, generally speaking most folks like their honey without wings. Filter gauge in this process is large enough for honey ingredients like propolis, pollen, beeswax particles and enzyme molecules to pass freely and unadulterated. The honey product following filtering would still be considered “raw honey”.
Micro-filtration – micor-filtration is basically the same as filtration. The only difference is the gauge of the filter. The gauge of the micro-filter will determine the constituencies of the honey product. For example, the size beneficial flower and tree pollens can range from 10-1000 microns. So if a honey processor were to use a 100 micron filter, many pollen granules would not pass in to the final honey product. Enzymes on the other hand are much smaller than most pollens (although they are considered to be large bio-molecules). Enzymes in honey can be anywhere between 0.01 – 20 microns in diameter. Typical honey micro-filtration will allow nearly all enzymes to pass freely.
Warming - also known as low temperature heating, warming is a processing technique designed to melt away honey crystals and lower the viscosity of the honey to allow it to flow more freely through bottling equipment. Crystallization is a natural property of all honey. High glucose honey will crystallize more quickly than low glucose honeys. Tupelo Honey and Sourwood Honey resist crystallization as a result of their relatively low glucose content. Warming honey to eliminate crystals will delay the natural process of crystallization. In addition, crystals contaminating bottling equipment will act as seed crystal for any honey that makes contact with the crystals in equipment.
The Savannah Bee Company uses crystallized honey to initiate the crystallization process of our Winter White Honey, a winter season special release. We allow our Star Thistle Honey to crystallize and the product is whipped in a larger mixer until a creamy, spreadable texture is achieved.
Opinions vary concerning maximum temperatures a honey supply may be warmed and still be considered “raw”. The maximum temperature ranges from 95° F – 115° F depending on the research source. The enzymes in honey will denature (melt or become non-functional) at certain elevated temperatures. In addition, many of the antioxidants found in raw honey will be destroyed by excessive heating.
Pasteurization - any reputable honey processor will tell you this is an absolute no no! Pasteurization is the process of quickly super heating liquids in order to destroy all yeast cells and spore producing bacterial species in order to inhibit fermentation and microbial contamination. The application of this process makes very little sense in relation to honey. Honey naturally resists microbial growth as a result of its very low water content. We all know that all forms of life require water and will not propagate successfully in low water environments. Given this, there is no need to pasteurize honey ever!
Pasteurization destroys all of the beneficial properties of honey. This process virtually reduces honey to a concentrated sugar solution. Please take a moment and extract the honey from your cupboard and read the label. If the label on you precious honey supply reads “pasteurized”, please throw it away immediately and visit www.savannahbee.com and purchase a jar of raw Tupelo Honey!